Author: Sarah Perez

TikTok spotted testing native video ads

TikTok is testing a new ad product: a sponsored video ad that directs users to the advertiser’s website. The test was spotted in the beta version of the U.S. TikTok app, where a video labeled “Sponsored” from the bike retailer Specialized is showing up in the main feed, along with a blue “Lean More” button that directs users to tap to get more information.

Presumably, this button could be customized to send users to the advertiser’s website or any other web address, but for the time being it only opened the Specialized Bikes (@specializedbikes) profile page within the TikTok app.

However, the profile page itself also sported a few new features, including what appeared to be a tweaked version of the verified account badge.

Below the @specializedbikes username was “Specialized Bikes Page” and a blue checkmark (see below). On other social networks, checkmarks like this usually indicate a user whose account has gone through a verification process of some kind.

Typical TikTok user profiles don’t look like this — they generally only include the username. In some cases, we’ve seen them sport other labels like “popular creator” or “Official Account” — but these have been tagged with a yellowish-orange checkmark, not a blue one.

In addition, a pop-up banner overlay appeared at the bottom of the profile page, which directed users to “Go to Website” followed by another blue “Learn More” button.

Oddly, this pop-up banner didn’t show up all the time, and the “Learn More” button didn’t work — it only re-opened the retailer’s profile page.

As for the video itself, it features a Valentine’s Day heart that you can send to a crush, and, of course, some bikes.

The music backing the clip is Breakbot’s “By Your Side,” but is labeled “Promoted Music.” Weirdly, when you tap on the “Promoted Music” you’re not taken to the soundbite on TikTok like usual, but instead get an error message saying “Ad videos currently do not support this feature.”

The glitches indicate this video ad unit is still very much in the process of being tested, and not a publicly available ad product at this time.

TikTok parent ByteDance only just began to experiment with advertising in the U.S. and U.K. in January.

So far, public tests have only included an app launch pre-roll ad. But according to a leaked pitch deck published by Digiday, there are four TikTok ad products in the works: a brand takeover, an in-feed native video ad, a hashtag challenge and a Snapchat-style 2D lens filter for photos; 3D and AR lens were listed as “coming soon.”

TikTok previously worked with GUESS on a hashtag challenge last year, and has more recently been running app launch pre-roll ads for companies like GrubHub, Disney’s Kingdom Hearts and others. However, a native video ad hadn’t yet been spotted in the wild until now.

According to estimates from Sensor Tower, TikTok has grown to nearly 800 million lifetime installs, not counting Android in China. Factoring that in, it’s fair to say the app has topped 1 billion downloads. As of last July, TikTok claimed to have more than 500 million monthly active users worldwide, excluding the 100 million users it gained from acquiring Musical.ly.

That’s a massive user base, and attractive to advertisers. Plus, native video ads like the one seen in testing would allow brands to participate in the community, instead of interrupting the experience the way video pre-rolls do.

TikTok has been reached for comment, but was not able to provide one at this time. We’ll update if that changes. Specialized declined to comment.

Bumble launches Spotlight, its own version of Tinder’s Boost

Bumble, currently Tinder’s biggest rival in the dating app market, today launched its own version of Tinder’s “Boost” feature. On Bumble, it’s being called “Spotlight” and allows users to pay to bump their profile up to the front of the queue, in order to be seen by more people than they would otherwise.

Very much like Tinder Boost, the idea here is that getting to the front of the line will allow you to pick up matches more quickly, as you don’t have to wait until users swipe through other profiles before they see yours. Plus, depending on how far in the back of the line you are typically, Spotlight could help you be seen by those who would have never made it to your profile page at all.

Spotlight – or Boost, for that matter – isn’t something every dating app user needs.

Dating apps today organize their queues with profiles based on a number of factors – including things like profile popularity, whether you swipe right on everyone or are more selective, whether your photos are higher quality or blurry, and many other signals. If you tend to get matches easily on the apps, you may not need Spotlight. But if you suspect your profile is further down the line, or just want to make sure your profile is getting seen, the feature could help.

To use Spotlight, Bumble users must pay 2 Coins (bought through a separate in-app purchase). 1 coin is $0.99 in the U.S., or £1.99 in the U.K. Spotlight will then show your profile to more users for the next 30 minutes. Your profile is not flagged or labeled in any way, so no one knows you used Spotlight to be promoted. However, the user who purchased Spotlight will know it’s active as they’ll see stars appear across the top part of the Bumble app while it’s enabled.

Spotlight represents another way that Bumble continues to challenges Tinder head-on by rolling out similar features, after already co-opting the swipe-to-like and the super-like, for example.

The move also comes just following another successful quarter by Match Group, led by the earnings from its flagship app Tinder.

Combined with its other dating app properties, Match pulled in $457 million in revenue, up 21 percent year-over-year, and topping analyst estimates. Tinder reported its paying subscriber base grew to 4.3 million as of year-end, out of a total user base that tops 50 million. (The company doesn’t disclose the number of users it has.)

Bumble, meanwhile, today says it has now reached 50 million worldwide users, with 84,000 new users being added daily.

Spotlight is one of several in-app purchases offered by Bumble, alongside the recently launched option to access more profile filters, for example, as well as free features, like Snooze, which let you take a digital detox from online dating.

Instagram thinks you want IGTV previews in your home feed

If you can’t beat or join them… force feed ’em? That appears to be Instagram’s latest strategy for IGTV, which is now being shoved right into Instagram’s main feed, the company announced today. Instagram says that it will now add one-minute IGTV previews to the feed, making it “even easier” to discover and watch content from IGTV.

Uh.

IGTV, you may recall, was launched last year as a way for Instagram to woo creators. With IGTV, creators are able to share long-form videos within the Instagram platform instead of just short-form content to the Feed or Stories.

The videos, before today, could be viewed in Instagram itself by tapping the IGTV icon at the top-right of the screen, or within the separate IGTV standalone app.Instagram’s hope was that IGTV would give the company a means of better competing with larger video sites, like Google’s YouTube or Amazon’s Twitch.

Its users, however, haven’t found IGTV as compelling.

As of last fall, few creators were working on content exclusively for IGTV, and rumor was the viewing audience for IGTV content remained quite small, compared with rivals like Snapchat or Facebook. Many creators just weren’t finding it worth investing additional resources into IGTV, so were repurposing content designed for other platforms, like YouTube or Snapchat.

That means the bigger creators weren’t developing premium content or exclusives for IGTV, but were instead experimenting by replaying the content their fans could find elsewhere. Many are still not even sure what the IGTV audience wants to watch.

IGTV’s standalone app doesn’t seem to have gained much of a following either.

The app today is ranked a lowly No. 228 on the U.S. App Store’s “Photo and Video” top chart. Despite being run by Instagram — an app that topped a billion monthly users last summer, and is currently the No. 1 free app on iOS — fewer are downloading IGTV.

After seeing 1.5 million downloads in its first month last year — largely out of curiosity — the IGTV app today has only grown to 3.5 million total installs worldwide, according to Sensor Tower data. While those may be good numbers for a brand-new startup, for a spin-off from one of the world’s biggest apps, they’re relatively small.Instagram’s new video initiative also represents another shot across the bow of Instagram purists.

As BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos opined last year, “I’m Sorry To Report Instagram Is Bad Now.” Her point of concern was the impact that Stories had on the Instagram Feed — people were sharing to Stories instead of the Feed, which made the Feed pretty boring. At yet, the Stories content wasn’t good either, having become a firehose of the throwaway posts that didn’t deserve being shared directly on users’ profiles.

On top of all this, it seems the Instagram Feed is now going to be cluttered with IGTV previews. That’s. Just. Great.

Instagram says you’ll see the one-minute previews in the Feed, and can tap on them to turn on the audio. Tap the IGTV icon on the preview and you’ll be able to watch the full version in IGTV. When the video is finished, you’re returned to the Feed. Or, if you want to see more from IGTV, you can swipe up while the video plays to start browsing.

IGTV previews is only one way Instagram has been developing the product to attract more views in recent months. It has also integrated IGTV in Explore, allowed the sharing of IGTV videos to Stories, added the ability to save IGTV Videos and launched IGTV Web Embeds.

Match Group fully acquires relationship-focused app Hinge

Last year, Match Group acquired a 51 percent stake in the relationship-focused dating app Hinge, in order to diversify its portfolio of dating apps led by Tinder. The company has now confirmed that it fully bought out Hinge in the past quarter, and today owns 100 percent of the app that has been gaining momentum both inside and outside of the U.S. following last year’s deal.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Match believes Hinge can offer an alternative to those who aren’t interested in using casual apps, like Tinder. As the company noted on its earnings call with investors this morning, half of all singles in the U.S. and Europe have never tried dating products. And of the 600 million internet-connected singles in the world, 400 million have never used dating apps.

That leaves room for an app like Hinge to grow, as it can attract a different type of user than Tinder and other Match-owned apps — like OkCupid or Plenty of Fish, for example — are able to reach.

As Match explained in November, it plans to double-down on marketing that focuses on Tinder’s more casual nature and use by young singles, while positioning Hinge as the alternative for those looking for serious relationships. The company said it would also increase its investment in Hinge going forward, in order to grow its user base.

Those moves appear to be working. According to Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, Hinge downloads grew four times on a year-over-year basis in the fourth quarter of 2018, and grew by 10 times in the U.K. The app is particularly popular in New York and London, which are now its top two markets, the exec noted.

Match may also see Hinge as a means of better competing with dating app rival Bumble, which it has been unable to acquire and continues to battle in court over various disputes.

Bumble’s brand is focused on female empowerment with its “women go first” product feature, and takes a more heavy-handed approach to banning, ranging from its prohibition on photos with weapons to its stance on kicking out users who are disrespectful to others.

Match, in its earnings announcement, made a point of comparing Hinge to other dating apps, including Bumble.

“Hinge downloads are now two-and-a-half times more than the next largest app, and 40 percent of Bumble downloads,” said Ginsberg, referring to a chart (below) which positions Hinge next to competitors like Happn, The League, Coffee Meets Bagel and Bumble.

“We expect Hinge to continue to strengthen its position in this relationship-minded market,” she added. “We believe that Hinge can be a meaningful revenue contributor to match group beyond 2019, and we have confidence that it can carve out a solid position in the dating app landscape amongst relationship-minded millennials, and serve as a complementary role in our portfolio next to Tinder,” Ginsberg said. 

Match has big plans for Hinge in 2019, saying that it will expand Hinge to international markets, double the size of its team and build new product features focused on helping people get off the app and going on dates.

Hinge today claims to be the fastest-growing dating app in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, and is setting up a date every four seconds. Three out of four first dates on Hinge also lead to second dates, it says.

Hinge is now one of several dating apps owned by Match Group, which is best known for Tinder and its namesake, Match.com. But the company has been diversifying as of late, not only with Hinge, but also its newest addition, Ship, which was developed in partnership with media brand Betches. But Ship could be a miss if it doesn’t even out its demographics — currently the subscriber base is 80 percent female, Match says.

Tinder, meanwhile, still drives Match Group’s revenue, which rose to $457 million from $379 million a year ago, and exceeded analysts’ expectations for $448 million, per MarketWatch. In the quarter, Tinder added 233,000 net new subscribers, bringing its total subscriber count to 4.3 million. Combined with Match’s other apps, overall subscribers totaled 8.2 million.

This Marie Kondo-inspired Twitter tool will help you declutter your timeline so it again ‘sparks joy’

Does your Twitter timeline spark joy? If you’re like most people, probably not. Over the years, you probably politely followed back a few too many Twitter accounts, and now have a timeline filled with all sorts of random tweets from people you can’t even remember following in the first place. A new Twitter tool, Tokimeki Unfollow, may help.

Designed by Julius Tarng, previously of Facebook and Branch, “tokimeki” roughly translates to “spark joy.” It’s a nod to Tarng’s source of inspiration for the new tool — Marie Kondo’s hugely popular Netflix show “Tidying Up.” The series, based on the decluttering expert’s own KonMari method of organization, has prompted many to start purging their homes of unwanted and unloved clothing, books, papers, toys and more in the weeks following the series’ debut.

So why not take the idea to Twitter?

After all, if anything is a source of clutter these days, it’s the build-up of timeline junk thanks to poor following choices in years past.

Tokimeki Unfollow is easy to use, though its newfound popularity may have it running a little slow at times, we found.

The tool works by using cookies and your browser’s local storage to save its progress. If you opt in, it can save your “keep” and “unfollow” progress secured on the Glitch servers.

The tool also uses your Twitter authentication to pull in your follows, their tweets and to unfollow accounts and help you manage your lists.

Above: I may never be able to KonMari my way out of this

The tool will ask you which order you want to use to begin the decluttering, with “oldest first” as the recommended default. It suggests that you hide the account’s bio — in case you’re too swayed by who someone is, rather than what they tweet. But you can toggle this setting on or off as you prefer.

Once up-and-running, the tool asks you if the tweets still spark joy or feel important?

You then have to choose to keep following the account or unfollow it.

Above: Apparently, there was a time I followed Dell on Twitter

If you unfollow, the tool even reminds you to thank the account for all the tweets you enjoyed before.

You can also organize accounts into lists along the way, which is handy.

List-making is a good middle ground for those times when there are accounts you want to track — like perhaps those with memes or jokes, or those dedicated to favorites celebs, musicians, sports figures and teams, etc. — but don’t want in your main timeline.

Unfortunately, the tool missed pulling in a couple of my lists (perhaps I have too many…), but you can open the Twitter user’s account in a separate tab and add them to a list from there, if need be.

The process of decluttering Twitter this way will take time, but it will also give you the chance to truly consider whose content is worth following.

For those who have been on Twitter from day one, it may be impossible to ever get through the decluttering process this way — but it’s at least a productive time filler.

Now if only someone would build Tokimeki tools for Facebook, Instagram and my browser’s bookmarks…

We asked Tarng to give us more info about the idea behind building Tokimeki Unfollow and how it helps to clean up messy Twitter accounts.

TC: Were you a fan of Marie Kondo and the KonMari method before the Netflix series?

JT: I wouldn’t say “fan” but I had adopted her clothes folding techniques since her book made the rounds a few years ago. The new Netflix show was definitely a reminder, and it was interesting and (at times disappointing) to see American mixed reactions to it!

TC: Have you practiced the method yourself at home?

JT: I actually had always been pretty good about getting rid of stuff since I was young, so KonMari was actually more of a confirmation to me that I wasn’t the only one that thought that way. But I loved the idea of thanking the objects before throwing or donating them away — it’s a very thoughtful way to think about your possessions.

TC: Why did you decide to use this organizational method on your Twitter account?

JT: Well, I had just come back to the states after a year abroad and a year off of Twitter. I really missed the human connection, but my feed had become very anxiety-inducing. I saw some joke tweets about KonMari for Twitter, and that was the confirmation for me that I should spend some time building it! Firstly, it was for myself, so some of my personal opinions are in there — like hiding people’s bios so I wouldn’t be swayed by who they were, [and] focusing on the content itself.

TC: How long did it take to build?

JT: I started about three weeks ago. Finished this past weekend. The code is open source on Glitch and you can rewind the history to see the development unfold!

TC: Did anyone help?

JT: I had some guidance from my fiancée and some friends, but I did most of it myself.

TC: What should people know about using this tool?

JT: The tool is more about the process than the end result. Even if people use it for 15 minutes and stop, I hope those 15 minutes help them construct new rules for themselves for who and what type of account to follow in the future. I hope they reflect on how they’ve changed as a person through their follows over the years! I recommend using the “Oldest first” option to really get a look at your past.

TC: The tool has received a lot of attention in the past couple of days (see, for example, Wired, Fortune and Motherboard’s reports, among others). Do you plan to keep working on it or adding more features, as a result?

JT: It is open source so I’m hoping others remix it on Glitch and customize their experience. It is a personal tool that happened to become popular, so I won’t add features I wouldn’t use myself. I still have 600/1,000 to go myself, so however long it takes to go through the rest I’ll tweak it!

YouTube expands test of its Instagram-like Explore tab to more devices

YouTube is expanding the test of its “Explore” feature, a new discovery tool it first introduced as an experiment within its iPhone app last year. Similar to Instagram’s Explore page, the new YouTube feature aims to introduce users to a diverse set of personalized recommendations so they can more easily find something new to watch. The test is now available across devices, and has been updated to also suggest smaller, up-and-coming YouTube creators, the company says.

The changes to Explore were announced in a recent Creator Insiders video, where the company shares ideas it’s thinking about or testing ahead of a public debut — like a change to the “dislike” button, for example.

Last year, the company published a video to Creator Insiders where it talked about a plan to develop a new place within the YouTube app that would help people broaden their horizons when looking for something different to watch.

Today, YouTube’s recommendation technology relies heavily on past viewing activity and other in-app behavior to make its content suggestions, the company explained. With the Explore tab, however, YouTube aims to widen recommendations to include various topics, videos and channels you may not have otherwise encountered.

For instance, the Explore section might recommend videos about high-end cameras after you watched videos about telescopes. Or it might recommend videos about kittens or puppies because you watched other animal videos.

When YouTube launched Explore last year, the test was only rolled out to 1 percent of YouTube’s iPhone app users.

On testers’ devices, Explore replaces the Trending tab in the app’s navigation at the bottom of the screen. The section of Trending videos then became just another sub-category within Explore, alongside other top-level sections like Gaming, Movies, Music, Originals and more.

While Explore was initially available only to iPhone users, the test has now gone live across devices, including iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets and on the desktop, YouTube confirmed to TechCrunch. But it’s still only available to a “small amount” of testers, the company says.

In addition, Explore has been updated to include a new section called “On the Rise,” which will feature up-and-coming YouTube creators.

Here, a shelf is shown showcasing creators with fewer than 10,000 subscribers. These suggestions are personalized to you, too, based on which channels you currently like and regularly watch.

Beneath the “Under 10K” section are other creators YouTube thinks you’ll like, based on your YouTube watch history as well as those whose channels are watched by other fans of your favorite creators.

These recommendations may include those channels with more than 10,000 subscribers, but there will be a cap on how many subscribers a creator can have to be categorized within this “On the Rise” section. (That cap is still TBD, though.)

We understand that while YouTube has expanded the experiment’s reach, it doesn’t yet have a definitive plan for rolling out to the public the Explore tab.

For now, Explore is still considered an experiment and the company is looking to gather more feedback before making a formal decision about the feature’s wider availability.

Twitter bug makes it look like random retweets are appearing in your timeline

A number of Twitter users have been complaining that tweets that were retweeted by people they don’t follow are now showing in their timeline. The issue, thankfully, is not related to a new Twitter algorithm or recommendation system, as some had feared. Instead, the company confirmed that a bug affecting Android users was mislabeling the “social proof” tag on Retweets.

This is the part of the Retweet that tells you who, among the people you already do follow, had retweeted the post in question.

The company says that the social proof label is wrong, so the Android users were seeing tweets that looked like they had been retweeted by someone they don’t know.

Above: some example complaints

Twitter says the Retweets that showed up were actually tweeted by someone the people did knew, but their social proof label was wrong which made them seem out of place. Its engineers are aware of the problem and working to fix this now. The bug has been live for a few days, Twitter also confirmed.

The company’s @TwitterSupport account had not yet replied to those asking about this problem, which may have led to some user confusion.

After all, Twitter has been known to put what some consider extraneous information in the timeline – like posts that show you when many people you follow have now all followed another Twitter user, or posts that tell you that several people have shared the same link, for example. But even in those cases, that was in-network activity – not something like putting random retweets in your main feed.

Until the bug is fixed, Twitter users who don’t like the content of the seemingly random retweets can tap on the down arrow on the right side of the tweet to tell Twitter it wants to see less content like this.

 

It’s time to pay serious attention to TikTok

If you haven’t been paying attention to TikTok, you haven’t been paying attention. The short-form video app hailing from Beijing’s ByteDance just had its biggest month ever with the addition of 75 million new users in December — a 275 percent increase from the 20 million it added in December 2017, according a recent report from Sensor Tower.

Despite its rapid rise, there are still plenty of people — often, older people — who aren’t quite sure what TikTok is.

TikTok is often referred to as a “lip-syncing” app, which makes it sound like it’s some online karaoke experience. But a closer comparison would be Vine, Twitter’s still sorely missed short-form video app whose content lives on as YouTube compilations.

While it’s true that TikTok is home to some standard lip-syncing, it’s actually better known for its act-out memes backed by music and other sound clips, which get endlessly reproduced and remixed among its young users.

Its tunes are varied — pop, rap, R&B, electro and DJ tracks serve as backing for its 15-second video clips. But the sounds may also be snagged from YouTube music videos (see: I Baked You A Pie above), SoundCloud or from pop culture — like weird soundbites from Peppa Pig or Riverdale — or just original creations.

These memes-as-videos reference things familiar to Gen Z, like gaming culture (see below). They come in the form of standalone videos, reactions, duets, mirrors/clones and more.

The app has been growing steadily since it acquired its U.S.-based rival Musical.ly in November 2017 for north of $800 million, then merged the two apps’ user bases last August.

This gave TikTok the means to grow in Western markets, where it has attracted the interest of U.S. celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk, for example, along with YouTubers on the hunt for the next new thing.

But unlike Vine (RIP), YouTube or Instagram, TikTok doesn’t yet feel dominated by micro-celebs, though they certainly exist.

Instead, its main feed often surfaces everyday users — aka, amateurs — doing something cute, funny or clever, with a tacit acknowledgement that “yes, this is an internet joke” underlying much of the content.

Okay, okay.

Sometimes these videos are described as “cringey.” 

But that’s because those of us trying to talk about TikTok are old(er) people who grew up on the big ol’ mean internet.

Cringey, frankly, is an unfair label, as it dismisses TikTok’s success in setting a tone for its community. Here, users are able to post and share unapologetically wholesome content, and receive far less mocking than elsewhere on the web — largely because everyone else on TikTok posts similar “cringey” content, too.

You might not know this, however, if your only exposure to TikTok comes from YouTube’s TikTok Cringe Compilations. But spend a day in the (oddly addictive) TikTok feed, and you’ll find a whole world of video that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the web — including on YouTube. Videos that are weird, sure — but also fun to watch.

It’s a stark comparison to the existing social media platforms.

Users today are engaged in the culture wars on Twitter (ban the Nazis! protect free speech!), while YouTubers are gaming the algorithm with hateful, exploitive, dangerous and otherwise questionable content that freaks out advertisers. And Facebook is, well, contributing to war crimes and the toppling of democracy.

Meanwhile, TikTok presents an alternative version of online sharing. Simple, goofy, irreverent — and frankly, it’s a much needed reset.

For example, some of the popular TikTok memes have included videos of kids proclaiming what a great mom they have, as they drag her into frame, or they remind people to pick up litter and conserve water. They might give themselves silly, but self-affirming makeovers where, afterwards, they cite themselves not as “cute” but rather “drop. dead. gorgeous.”

They might spend hours setting up gummy bears as Adele concert-goers, learning how to do a shuffle dance up a set of stairs or in a dance battle their dad. Or they may showcase some special talent — drawing, painting, gymnastics, dance or skateboarding, perhaps. They do science experiments, make jokes or use special effects for a little video magic.

They shout out “hit or miss!” in public places and wait to see who answers. (Look it up.)

Of course, it is still the internet. And TikTok isn’t perfect.

The app has also been the subject of troubling reports about its “dark” side, which is reportedly filled with child predators and teens bullying and harassing one another. It’s not clear, however, that TikTok’s affliction with these matters is any worse than any other large, social, public-by-default app of its size.

And unlike some apps, concerned parents — or the users themselves — can set a TikTok account to private, turn off commenting, hide the account from search, disable downloads, disallow reactions and duets and restrict an account from receiving messages.

It is concerning, however, that under-13 kids are setting up social media accounts without parental consent. (But, uh, have you seen Fortnite and Roblox? This is what kids do. At least the TikTok main feed isn’t worrisome, we’ve found.)

The bigger issue, though — and one that could ultimately prove damaging to TikTok — is whether it will be able to keep up with content filtering and takedown requests, or handle its security and privacy protection issues as it scales up.

Content and community aren’t the only things contributing to TikTok’s growth.

While Vine may have introduced the concept of short-form video, TikTok made video editing incredibly simple. You don’t need to be a video expert to put together clips with a range of effects. It’s the Instagram for the mobile video age — in a way that Instagram itself won’t be able to reproduce, having already aligned its community with influencers and advertisers.

TikTok’s sizable user base, meanwhile, is due not only to its growth in Western markets, but because of its traction in emerging markets like China and India.

This allowed TikTok to rank No. 4 worldwide across iOS and Android, combined, according to App Annie’s data on the most-downloaded apps of 2018. On iOS, TikTok was the No. 1 most-downloaded app of the year, mainly thanks to China.

At times last year, TikTok even ranked higher than Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Both App Annie and Sensor Tower agree that TikTok scored the No. 3 position for most installs among all apps worldwide in 2018.

Now, TikTok is growing in India, says Sensor Tower.

The country accounted for 27 percent of new installs between December 2017 and December 2018, and last month was the source for 32.3 million of TikTok’s 75 million total new downloads — a 25x increase from last year.

Some of this growth comes from ad spend, according to a report from Apptopia, which examined the app’s widened use of ad networks. (It’s also driving people bonkers with its YouTube ads).

The revenue is starting to arrive, as well.

Worldwide, users spent $6 million tipping their favorite live streamers, a 253 percent year-over-year jump from December 2017’s total of $1.7 million, Sensor Tower estimates. But live streaming is not the default activity on TikTok — it added the feature after shutting down Musical.ly’s live streaming app, Live.ly.

Above: full-screen ad in TikTok when app is first launched; spotted today

Above: an ad appearing earlier this month

TikTok is also starting to test in-app advertising, and is being eyed by agencies as a result. When you launch TikTok, you may see a full-page splash screen ad of some kind — though the company has not officially launched ad products.

But the brands are starting to take notice. This week, for example, TikTok collaborated with SportsManias, an officially licensed NFL Players Association partner, for the introduction of NFL-themed AR animated stickers in time for the Super Bowl. The move feels like a test for how well branded content will perform within the TikTok universe, but the company says it’s “not an ad deal.”

The company also declined to say how many are today using TikTok.

However, parent company ByteDance had publicly stated last year that it had 500 million monthly active users when it announced the app’s rebranding post-merger. It has yet to release new numbers for its global user base.

That said, ByteDance just shared updated stats for China only, on all versions of the TikTok app (including the non-Google Play Android version). It says that TikTok now has 500 million monthly active users in China alone.

Sensor Tower today estimates TikTok has grown to nearly 800 million lifetime installs, not counting Android in China.

Factoring in those Android in China installs, it’s fair to say this app has topped 1 billion downloads.

Here comes the new new internet, folks. It’s big, dominated by emerging markets, mobile, video, meme-ified, and goes viral both online and off.

So if you haven’t been paying attention to TikTok, you may want to get started.

Facebook drafts a proposal describing how its new content review board will work

In November, Facebook announced a new plan that would revamp how the company makes content policy decisions on its social network — it will begin to pass off to an independent review board some of the more contested decisions. The board will serve as the final level of escalation for appeals around reported content, acting something like a Facebook Supreme Court. Today, Facebook is sharing (PDF) more detail about how this board will be structured, and how the review process will work.

Facebook earlier explained that the review board wouldn’t be making the first — or even the second — decision on reported content. Instead, when someone reports content on Facebook, the first two appeals will still be handled by Facebook’s own internal review systems. But if someone isn’t happy with Facebook’s decision, the case can make its way to the new review board to consider.

However, the board may not decide to take on every case that’s pushed up the chain. Instead, it will focus on those it thinks are the most important, the company had said.

Today, Facebook explains in more detail how the board will be staffed and how its decisions will be handled.

In a draft charter, the company says that the board will include experts with experience in “content, privacy, free expression, human rights, journalism, civil rights, safety, and other relevant disciplines.” The member list will also be public, and the board will be supported by a full-time staff that will ensure its decisions are properly implemented.

While decisions around the board makeup haven’t been made, Facebook is today suggesting the board should have 40 members. These will be chosen by Facebook after it publicly announces the required qualifications for joining, and says it will offer special consideration to factors like “geographical and cultural background,” and a “diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.”

The board will also not include former or current Facebook employees, contingent workers of Facebook or government officials.

Once this board is launched, it will be responsible for the future selection of members after members’ own terms are up.

Facebook believes the ideal term length is three years, with the term automatically renewable one time, for those who want to continue their participation. The board members will serve “part-time,” as well — a necessary consideration as many will likely have other roles outside of policing Facebook content.

Facebook will ultimately allow the board to have final say. It can reverse Facebook’s own decisions, when necessary. The company may then choose to incorporate some of the final rulings into its own policy development. Facebook may also seek policy advice from the board, at times, even when a decision is not pressing.

The board will be referred cases both through the user appeals process, as well as directly from Facebook. For the latter, Facebook will likely hand off the more controversial or hotly debated decisions, or those where existing policy seems to conflict with Facebook’s own values.

To further guide board members, Facebook will publish a final charter that includes a statement of its values.

The board will not decide cases where doing so would violate the law, however.

Cases will be heard by smaller panels that consist of a rotating, odd number of board members. Decisions will be attributed to the review board, but the names of the actual board members who decided an individual case will not be attached to the decision — that’s likely something that could protect them from directed threats and harassment.

The board’s decisions will be made public, though it will not compromise user privacy in its explanations. After a decision is issued, the board will have two weeks to publish its decision and explanation. In the case of non-unanimous decisions, a dissenting member may opt to publish their perspective along with the final decision.

Like a higher court would, the board will reference its prior opinions before finalizing its decision on a new case.

After deciding their slate of cases, the members of the first panel will choose a slate of cases to be heard by the next panel. That panel will then pick the third slate of cases, and so on. A majority of members on a panel will have to agree that a case should be heard for it to be added to the docket.

Because 40 people can’t reasonably represent the entirety of the planet, nor Facebook’s 2+ billion users, the board will rely on consultants and experts, as required, in order to gather together the necessary “linguistic, cultural and sociopolitical expertise” to make its decisions, Facebook says.

To keep the board impartial, Facebook plans to spell out guidelines around recusals for when a conflict of interest develops, and it will not allow the board to be lobbied or accept incentives. However, the board will be paid — a standardized, fixed salary in advance of their term.

None of these announced plans are final, just Facebook’s initial proposals.

Facebook is issuing them in draft format to gather feedback and says it will open up a way for outside stakeholders to submit their own proposals in the weeks ahead.

The company also plans to host a series of workshops around the world over the next six months, where it will get various experts together to talk about issues like free speech and technology, democracy, procedural fairness and human rights. The workshops will be held in Singapore, Delhi, Nairobi, Berlin, New York, Mexico City and other cities yet to be announced.

Facebook has been criticized for its handling of issues like the calls to violence that led to genocide in Myanmar and riots in Sri Lanka; election meddling from state-backed actors from Russia, Iran and elsewhere; its failure to remove child abuse posts in India; the weaponization of Facebook by the government in the Philippines to silence its critics; Facebook’s approach to handling Holocaust denials or conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones; and much more.

Some may say Facebook is now offloading its responsibility by referring the tough decisions to an outside board. This, after all, could potentially save the company itself from being held accountable for war crimes and the like. But on the other hand, Facebook has not shown itself capable of making reasonable policy decisions related to things like hate speech and propaganda. It may be time for it to bring in the experts, and let someone else make the decisions.

WhatsApp Business app adds customer service features to its desktop and web apps

A year ago, Facebook-owned WhatsApp officially introduced its standalone app aimed at small business customers. Today, the WhatsApp Business app has grown to reach 5 million business customers, the company says. And now it’s making the app easier to use on the desktop and the web by porting over several of the most popular features that were previously available only on mobile.

These include tools to organize and filter chats, as well as to quickly reply to customer inquiries.

Quick Replies, as the latter feature is called, lets businesses respond to common questions from customers with pre-written replies. It’s similar to a feature Facebook introduced several years ago, then called “Saved Replies,” that allowed business owners with Facebook Pages to respond to customers with canned messages.

On WhatsApp Business, you can trigger the quick replies by press the “/” button on your keyboard.

The feature joins several other customer service features, like automated greeting messages that are triggered when the customer pings the business account, or away messages that can be scheduled for those times when you’re not able to immediately answer new inquiries.

The other two features now rolling out to web and desktop users are labels and chat list filters.

The former lets you organize contacts using labels, and the latter lets you filter chat list by categories like unread messages, groups, or broadcast lists. Like Quick Replies, these were previously available on mobile.

The idea, the company explains, is to make it easier on business owners who are working from their computer – sending invoices, scheduling appointments, and responding to customer inquiries. They shouldn’t have to turn to their phone to use these sorts of basic customer service features.

The new web and desktop features are rolling out today, says WhatsApp.